Beijing - Nine Nights, Ten Days
Chinese girls dressed Manchu-style in Beihai Park
Museums, parks, temples, waitresses and, of course, a Hooters' girl
Police van with studded sides to smash bad guys off the road, bookstore on Wangfujing shopping area
Beijing University gate;A Homeless woman; inside the beautiful new Beijing library building, temple roof
Scenes of Beijing; Forbidden City; and the famous Wangfujing shopping street
Tian An Men Square swarming with police and soldiers; a Hooters girl at Halloween
Police SWAT vehicle; Forbidden City & the Altar of Heaven and Wangfujing
Confucius Temple; a famous bookstore; lots of modern shopping centers
Confucius temple: A famous hutong or lane of Beijing & students inside a hutong cafe
Project 798: Formerly a factory area, now a famous area for artists, sculptors, etc.
Signs along a lane depicting traditional Chinese occupations
OK, so with reflection, singing the Taiwan national anthem in mandarin to the Hooters girls in Beijing may not have been my smartest move. But, hey, if people are going to ply me with frozen margaritas I'm not responsible for my actions. Anyway, they enjoyed hearing it. They had never heard it before. That of course is the point. No one in mainland China has heard it because there is probably a 20-year jail sentence for singing it. After all, China considers Taiwan a renegade province and Taiwan considers itself an independent nation with a national anthem. But nobody turned me in and Hooters was fun; as most places are after a few frozen margaritas.
It had been eight or nine years since I had visited Beijing and I decided the time had come to go again. I needed to do some research and once I realized that Beijing now has its very own Hooters I decided I definitely needed to get up there.
At Beijing Airport I gave the taxi driver an address in Mandarin without mentioning a hotel name so he would think I was a local. Eventually we began to have a conversation except in addition to having the diminuitive "r" suffix at the end of just about every word, it was as if he had marbles in his mouth: "rrrrrrrrr". (No motorcycle taxis in Beijing but there are a few weird contraptions here and there - middle picture, fourth row down.) Anyway, the hotel, the Kapok, was an excellent choice as it is located about ten minutes to the Forbidden City and in the other direction ten minutes to the Wangfujing shopping area. To be right up front about it, despite its many attractions, Beijing is a huge city, it gets cold as hell as I was about to find out, traffic is bad, pollution is a disaster and, as the capital, it has police and military and guards all over the place. I am sure I could find a pleasant area to live in this city but, given the choice, I would most likely choose to live in Shanghai.
Of the classic signs of a Chinese beauty I found only one, i.e., "hair as black as a raven's wing." But, if my understanding of the exchange rate is correct, to have that lovely fine hair as black as a raven's wing draped across my pillow would be far more than I can afford, esp. as not enough of you have been buying my books (you know who you are). But as one door closes another opens. In the Metro Beijing paper the headline is:
"CAMPUS CONCUBINES SHOW VICTORY OF MONEY OVER
MORALS. "It is not uncommon to see a long line of luxury cars or limos in front
of universities famous for having pretty girls. And on weekends, it is normal
to see dressed-up girls being escorted into waiting cars, their laughter cut off
with the slam of a door..."
I think you will agree that this is disgusting and unprofessional. I don't mean old men snagging young girls, I mean the fact that the idiot who wrote the article did not specify which Beijing universities and there are a lot of them so I
had to go out and try to save one or two of these poor babies from living a decadent, rich, affluent existence when they could be with me in my Bangkok apartment ironing my shirts.
The biggest area of art galleries, sculptures, student paintings, books, etc. in Beijing and in all of China is a place called 798 in NW Beijing. it used to be all factories. The rent has been raised in recent years and some of the original artists have moved out, farther north, but it is still an interesting place to visit as you can see from the pictures above. I spent a few hours wandering about there and got some great videos from the "Insight bookshop":
Belle De Jour
Project 798 New Art in New China
Crumb (the "sick") cartoonist
The Sensation of Sight
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
The Horse's Mouth
Some I never saw; others I haven't seen in decades.
No need to give tourists details of Beijing. You can find lots on various websites. But some of the places most visited by tourists were still packed in early October including the Forbidden City, Altar of Heaven, Prince Gung Palace, etc. Possibly because the Nobel Prize had just been awarded to a jailed dissident, the area around Tian An Men was swarming with military, police, CCTV and no doubt undercover types. It was a rainy and very cold day and I almost felt sorry for the soldiers and police having to stand outside at attention.
I was amazed at how sudden the weather changed. During the first four and a half days it was cool and pleasant. I woke up the fifth day and it was cold as hell and stayed that way. Needless to say, I was totally unprepared for the cold weather. As the unwary tourist wanders through parks, etc., he or she is often approached by students starting a conversation and exchanging information and lo and behold he (or she) is an artist and his or her class is right there in the park with an exhibition of paintings and would you like to look (and buy). So one becomes a bit wary.
What's that? What about the women? Well, you won't believe this, I know, but the truth is I was getting hit on so often I sometimes tried to walk back to my hotel by a different route to avoid them. You see, much of the Wangfujing shopping area is pedestrian-only. So as you walk in the wide but lively street, a Chinese woman will invariably approach you and say something like, "Hi, do you speak English? Where are you from?" It got so bad I finally started telling them in mandarin "Thank you for your kind thoughts but I live in Beijing." That generally did it. They understood that I wasn't a tourist; I wouldn't be taking them back to my hotel; I wouldn't be paying them money to do the nasty.
I swear to God one of them actually approached me with the line in English: "Hi, would you like to get a cup of coffee with me?" Amazing. Chinese women in Beijing using lines on me that I may have used on American women in my youth. These women were not beautiful, not ugly, not young, not old - you know the type. And, again, as I live in Thailand I see no need or rather feel no urge to spend money on less than perfection. No doubt, there are massage parlor operations which have beautiful women and one woman wanted to take me to one, apparently near Wangfujing but, well, it was late and it had turned cold as a bitch, and you know how it is. Once, going back to the hotel by a parallel route to Wangfujing to avoid women, I got approached by two younger cute ones all hot to trot. Admittedly, that was when I came the closest to giving in to temptation but I had spent the day walking about the city and I was cold and tired and getting a cold and wanted the warmth of my bed in the suite the hotel had upgraded me to.
Foreigners bemoan the razing of the old-style streets and alleys known as hutungs. And indeed it is a shame but there are still a lot there, some in pretty much original state and some jazzed up for the locals with coffee houses, etc. I would advise visiting both types. You can start walking after your visit to the Drum tower and nearby Bell tower. You can even pay quite a bit to have pedaled tuk tuks take you about. And be sure to visit the Confucius Temple and Academy and take your time to enjoy the long, shaded lane they are on. After a visit to some of these temples, etc., you begin to feel the long history this city has had.
I had been to see the Great Wall (He who has not been to the Great Wall cannot be considered a great man, as the Chinese say) so this time I had time to visit less touristy places such as the police museum and chat with the guards while discussing the various tortures depicted from the Ch'ing Dynasty. (Everyone else was outside on a beautiful sunny day and I was inside a dark building with Chinese guards having a great time animatedly discussing how to say "shackles" and "five-string finger torture" in mandarin. What's wrong with me?)
I had read that Sartre's Theatre of the Absurd play No Exit was playing at the Theater of the Central Academy of Drama in Dongcheng district and I asked a Chinese fellow in a small coffee house to call and find out if it was in English or Chinese. He and his girlfriend called and spoke for a long time and finally hung up and turned to me and said the people putting it on don't know what language it will be in. Now THERE is absurdity. But I decided to walk to the play which was way across town and I wanted to see the city up close anyway. Hours later I ended up at the wrong theater which is very close to it and then ran to it only to be given a free ticket and to learn it was in mandarin. But by then I was much too tired to go in and strain my ears and comprehension to try to follow a Theatre of the Absurd play in mandarin so I simply walked the hutungs instead which was a lot of fun, especially as one of the revamped ones had lots of local young Chinese couples in coffee houses, shops, etc.
Not far from Hooters I did see a store marked Sex Shop and certainly some of the young Chinese women in shopping malls were dressed punk style and just about any style you could think of. I had wanted to get to the north of the city and talk with the students and others coming in from other cities to make their fortune (most of whom eventually give up trying to get a decent job and go back home) but time ran out. By the way, don't actually eat at Hooters, the food was mediocre at best. Try the 1 Free Cafe Latte on the corner, then go upstairs to Hooters to have some drinking fun. Yep, traveling in China can be fun. Just prepare for the unexpected.
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